Cream’s second album was recorded over three and a half days between 8 and 16 May, 1967 in Atlantic Studios at 1841 Broadway, on the corner of 60th Street in New York City. Produced by Felix Pappalardi who would later form the Cream-alike band, Mountain with guitarist Leslie West, Disraeli Gears was engineered by Tom Dowd.
Released on 10 November 1967 the album made the UK charts a week later and eventually climbed to No.5. It went one place higher on the Billboard Best Seller list after its release in early December and became a massive seller, breaking the band in America.
Those are the facts…but what about the record’s unusual name? In the 1960s the ‘must-own’ racing bike was equipped with "derailleur gears". Eric Clapton seems to have had a yearning for such a bicycle and while discussing the matter with Ginger Baker one day, up piped Mick Turner, the band’s roadie, to say, “Has it got them Disraeli gears?” Everyone fell about laughing and the band decided to name their album as just that.
The first hint of what Disraeli Gears was to sound like came in early June 1967 when the band rush-released their first single taken from the album. ‘Strange Brew’ backed by ‘Tales of Brave Ulysses’ entered the UK charts on 10 June and peaked at No.17. The a-side was written by Clapton – who sings the lead vocal – Pappalardi and his wife Gail Collins and it is so typically Cream at this point in their career – a mixture of rock, blues and pop sensibilities that helped it to sell so well. The b-side is, for many people, one of the album’s standout cuts, featuring as it does a fabulous vocal from Jack Bruce and Clapton’s wah-wah guitar solo; Eric had only discovered the pedal a few days before they recorded the song. For the trivia lovers Eric admitted writing the music to the song while listening to the Lovin’ Spoonful’s ‘Summer in the City.’
A year later, in October 1968, Polydor released ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ as the second single from the album in the UK, where it managed to make No.25. It had been a huge hit in America following its release in January 1968 and made No.5 on the Billboard Hot 100. The riff for the song was written by Jack Bruce after he and Clapton had been to see Jimi Hendrix at the Saville Theatre in London the day before Cream flew to New York to begin recording the album. The lyrics in the main were written by Bruce and Pete Brown, a poet and leader of the Battered Ornaments, but it was Clapton who came up with the lines that included the song’s title. Pivotal to the success of the song was Ginger’s drumming which emphasised beats one and three, as opposed to the more normal rock and roll pattern of beats two and four; Ginger’s inspiration for the tempo was from African drumming.
The album’s distinctive cover was designed by Australian artist Martin Sharp who worked for OZ magazine and lived in the Pheasantry in Chelsea. where Clapton also lived. Sharp also did the cover for Wheels of Fire as well as writing some of the lyrics for, ‘Tales of Brave Ulysses’.
Of all the band’s albums this one is the least blues influenced record and definitely reflected the prevailing mood of the ‘Summer of Love’. The one true blues tune is a cover of ‘Outside Woman Blues’ that had been written and recorded by Blind Joe Reynolds in 1929.
In the first review of the album in the New Musical Express in November 1967 the writer Allen Evans was clearly unsure of what to make of the record.
“After you have recovered from the gaudy sleeve designs, you get the original meaty sounds of the blast off, out-of-this-world-group, the Cream. Unlike their stage shows, the sound is mercifully muted on this LP. But none of the exciting tone-patterns of the two guitars and driving drums is lost. The whole thing rides along with the smooth uncertainty of a giant sea wave, with the throbbing togetherness that the Cream’s Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker capture. The vocals are well taken and put over with a lot of imagination by Jack and Eric I liked the weird absorbing ‘We’re Going Wrong’ best.”
History has judged it a good deal more kindly.